Have a generous spirit. Prioritize whatever it is you could do to help support that person, but also don’t be shy about kindly asking for something they can do to help you whether it’s an introduction or weighing in on an issue you’re debating.
As part of my PR interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Samacicia Mullan. Andrea is a passionate communicator and entrepreneur who in 2009 founded Victory Public Relations as an effective PR solution for health, wellness, and beauty brands and the experts who power them. Her understanding of the media, attention to relationships, and the ability to identify trends have powered countless exciting campaigns for her clients. She continues to oversee strategy for some of the most innovative beauty brands and medical experts in New York City and beyond, as well as the growth of Victory Public Relations.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My path to a career in PR was circuitous, but once I got there I was hooked.
I studied English and political science in college and although I really enjoyed the time I spent digging into those subjects, it was not immediately clear what that background would translate to professionally. Despite that uncertainty, there were a few things I knew early on that I wanted for myself. I love writing, I love learning about new subjects, and because I always knew that I wanted to be a mother, I was pretty sure that the traditional 9–5 wouldn’t work for me.
After I graduated college I was lucky enough to work in a local newsroom, an experience that I will always cherish, and from there I went on to join the first class of civilian public information officers at the Suffolk County Police Department. Through those roles, I learned how the media works. Ultimately I landed at a PR agency in NYC because a colleague at the police department told me about her time at a PR agency and it sounded so exciting and perfect for me. In 2009 I was laid off from that agency and instead of landing another full-time role, I secured a number of freelance jobs. As they say, the rest is history!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
One of the many things I love about working in an agency setting is that it never gets stale. We are always bringing on new client partners and continuously learning about the media, the clients, and even ourselves. It’s the moments when we learn about ourselves that are always the most interesting and truly the most formative.
A few years ago we were working with an amazing expert on a first-person story with a major consumer magazine. The editor of the magazine was having a very costly, months-long treatment with our client and if all went well (we were confident it would!) she would write about it for her publication. It was a milestone opportunity that we had been targeting for a while, and also one that we knew our client was investing significantly in.
After the treatment was done and the story was written, this editor ended up leaving the magazine she was at when the story was filed to go to another competing title. For that reason, we were informed that the story was being scrapped, which of course was a challenging position. I’ll never forget discussing it with my colleague who felt so defeated, but that’s when we really sprung into action. We had some internal conversations about what it would take to get this thing published, came up with a plan, and got to work having conversations with editors and advocating for our client in a way that not only did we never have to do before, but we initially doubted that we even could because we questioned how it would be received by the media we worked with. We deployed professionalism and persistence and ultimately the story did run in Allure.
It was a game-changing moment for a very deserving client, which was amazing. Equally amazing was that at that moment we learned what we were made of. When we say that we will move mountains to help our clients succeed, we truly mean it. Likewise, I think the media we work with understands and values that when we pitch them, it’s on behalf of stories and experts we believe in with all of our heart and soul.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There were so many mistakes! I’m still making mistakes, honestly, and they’re often hysterical (though it usually takes some time to realize that!).
One that comes to mind from early on was when we were hired by a major brand to plan and execute a launch party for their partnership with a national charity, which would be headlined by Toni Braxton, Michael Costello, and Nigel Barker. We were responsible for all of the logistics of planning the event, managing everything from finding a venue, catering, staffing, etc., travel and scheduling for the celebrity hosts as well as press. This was unpaid work, but if we impressed them, it would lead to a paid contract. I remember we were hired something like a month before the date of the event and I was newly pregnant with my first son. At that time it was just me and Christina Halper Gorini and we were so, so thrilled to sink our teeth into it. We brought on our friends and family to staff the party, she took the lead on the press and I handled the logistics of planning. Somehow we also managed the needs of our other clients. We invited them all to the event and coordinated interviews with any of the press attending who would talk to them.
The night of the event arrived and it was beautiful. We had an amazing space, food, and drinks, incredible pre-press and press guests, and the hosts were amazing. We were seriously impressed with ourselves. Our guests started mingling and ordering drinks only to learn that our specialty cocktails, so carefully designed, were gross and warm because, of all things, I neglected to get ice. Warm, gross signature drinks for Toni Braxton.
Just like every other challenge we’ve encountered together, Christina and I freaked out a little bit, but then laughed and sent our husbands out to get ice at a local bodega. It was a painful 20 or so minutes until they returned but somehow we got through it and despite that horrifying mistake, the party was a success. Everyone had a blast, we garnered incredible coverage, and the client was happy. We did get the contract I so badly wanted and we learned so, so much.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We are very lucky to have incredible clients, each of which has an incredible story. I’m very proud that we represent the global leader in fertility medicine, The RMA Network, which is working not only to improve the experience of families struggling with infertility through industry-leading scientific research and treatment but is dedicated to changing the conversation surrounding fertility health to one of empowerment and education rather than fear and isolation.
Additionally, we are so lucky to work with a number of incredibly strong founders including one who was among the first investors in TikTok. As someone for whom career and family were always such a critical part of my identity, even before I had my children, I’m also inspired by the many incredible working moms we have the privilege to do business with. They include but aren’t limited to the co-founders of Motherly, the founder of Mother Honestly, and many more.
At VPR we’re also always looking for opportunities to partner with individuals who are shaping their field by shaking up the status quo. For instance, we have a long history of working with plastic surgeons and some who especially inspire me are those on our roster who have been talking about the empowering ways they are better serving their patients through education and insight.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Failure is part of the process. For years each time I fell short of a goal or flat-out failed at something, I thought it was because I was not capable of succeeding. That is wholly incorrect and now at VPR, we are very mindful that if we’re not failing, and we’re meeting all of our goals then we’re not reaching high enough. Failure is a growth opportunity that you can either take or forfeit.
- Confidence is magic. The fact that I didn’t have a ton of PR experience before I went out on my own and that I didn’t have a business background used to be a source of insecurity. The fact is that I have learned a tremendous amount over the past decade and I’m definitely not the same person I was before I started. But what I’d wish I’d known then about confidence is that it comes from within. My instinct for PR and for growing a profitable business from day one was always strong, but I often checked my confidence because I thought that someone or something needed to validate it.
- Clients come and clients go. For years each time I lost a client, it would ruin me for days. It felt like a personal failure that shook me to the core. But the truth is that clients come and clients go — often for reasons that had nothing to do with me. The only thing we can control is that we do the best possible job while they are in our care and when we do that, they are always happy — even if they do move on.
- You cannot do everything by yourself. This was huge for me and it took me a long time to learn. The truth is that no matter how much energy and how dedicated a person is, no one can do it all by themselves. I failed to reach some crucial goals in 2018 and it felt at times like I’d never get over that hurdle. But then some fortuitous conversations happened and I wound up hiring a director who joined the team and helped us not only reach those goals but blow right past them.
- Staying in the game is half the battle. Over the past decade-plus that I’ve been building VPR, I’ve learned that simply living to fight another day over and over again will lead you to the result you’re looking for. I think that’s true for any industry and any individual. If there is something you truly are driven to achieve just keep doing it no matter what. COVID is a perfect example of this. Very early on I had a call with my team who were reasonably concerned, where I leveled with them and I told them that as long as they continued to bring their skill and dedication to our work, I was willing to absorb the cost, whatever it was, of riding out whatever we were facing. I was able to say that with confidence because I knew that if we were all just focused on the work and not distracted by all of the many things that would have scared us, the quality of that work would carry us through. I’m incredibly proud of how we all rose to this challenge and despite taking many hits, we did manage to grow both our team and our roster through this time.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I love networking, really it’s part of the job as a publicist. The trick is to approach it purely as an opportunity to meet new and interesting people, rather than with a purely transactional view. The two best tips I could give anyone who is reluctant to the network are:
● Have an actual conversation. Meeting someone new is not an interview nor is it a monologue — ask them thoughtful questions and share a bit about yourself.
● Have a generous spirit. Prioritize whatever it is you could do to help support that person, but also don’t be shy about kindly asking for something they can do to help you whether it’s an introduction or weighing in on an issue you’re debating. People want to help others and the worst that will happen is that it doesn’t work out, but in just about every case you’ll learn something!
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
For a very long time, I sourced most of our business through cold emailing. As we grew and more people heard of us, we started getting more and more referrals and inbound inquiries.
VPR is in a growth phase right now and one of the best ways to support that is through a robust PR and communications program, which we’re embarking on. We’ve never invested in it for ourselves but are now focused on media relations and a content-driven social media strategy.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I love to read and I’ve read countless books that have helped me in my career. If I had to identify just a few that were especially influential, I’d say the following three are must-reads.
● Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, which in so many ways is a guide to networking but for me helped me create a framework for goal setting that has been absolutely invaluable to me.
● The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo is where I first encountered the concept that when you want something and you work toward it, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it.
● How to Be a No-Limit Person by Wayne Dyer. I listened to the audio version after reading an interview with Sara Blakely in which she recommended it. I can’t overstate how crucial it changed my perspective and utterly shaped me.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think now more than ever we need to see more businesses of all sizes prioritizing paid family leave. The issue is complex, but I believe the steps leaders of all businesses should be taking are pretty simple, which is that more businesses, even small ones like my own, need to fund parental leave. We’ve done it a handful of times and each time both the employee and the business has flourished as a result.